Category Archives: New York

Time to Reflect: First DNF Since Early 80s

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

Today I have the weary legs common for the day after race. Only this time, for the first time since I stepped off a track in the early 80s during a 10,000m track race, I did not finish the race. The race being the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon, one of NYRR’s premier race fixtures. And today not only did I have weary legs and the tail tangled between my legs, I also was physically unable to run so had some spare time to reflect as I walked on my own through Rockefeller State Park.

Going into the race I sensed I was ready for a fast one. The only question mark was to what extent the forecast persistent rain and unseasonably cold temperatures would weigh on my time. My target was to run sub 1:13, enough to lead the UK and USA M50 half marathon rankings. In 2017, I’d run the same race and clocked 1:12:01. Recent training had been going well and deep down I was very confident. So I figured I’d go out at 5:30 MPM pace and see if I could hold on.

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Throwback to 2017

The race largely went to plan. It had been raining all morning so most of us were wet even before the gun went off.  The beauty of running New York races is the sea of familiar faces. In the starting corral I knew pretty much everyone except for those coming from out of town. We were, all 26,000 if us, in this together. It was 7am, piss wet and cold. But we would  not want to be anywhere else even St George’s Chapel. This was our thing. And we were hoping  for the best for each other.

Looking for a group too work with in the opening mile

It seemed like it was Boston all over again. The roads were also pockmarked with puddles. Before long racing shoes and socks were soaking. I quickly settled into a group running at 5:30 pace including fellow Brit Ben Leese of North Brooklyn Runners. He like me, had opted to run the half instead of go to a royal wedding. Actually our invites had not arrived, lost in the post no doubt by either the Royal Mail or US Postal.

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About to enter Prospect Park around the 4 mile mark, with Brent Frissora (far left), Ben Leese (2nd from left), and Jeff Poindexter (far right)

I passed the first 5K in 16:58 and soon our group was joined by my team mate Askale (Asku) Meraichi. Asku was the 2017 NYRR Women Runner of the Year. It was nice to have a team mate to work with. And so we did until I dropped out! We passed 5 miles, the highest point of the race in Prospect Park, in 27:45. The pace had slowed a little due to the half mile climb to get to this point. From here it’s all down hill to the finish on Coney Island Boardwalk and that’s what makes the Brooklyn Half a pretty fast race. Faster still when it’s dry. The interactive map is here, the PDF with elevations here (see right hand panel).

Asku, the leading woman, and I were stride for stride for the next 5 miles. We passed 10K in 34:33 and descended the hill on the south west side of Prospect Park. It was here that I had an inkling of what was to come. I felt a slight twinge in my left hamstring, the same hamstring that had been strained after an indoor track meet followed by a long run the next day in the wet and cold. And I felt it again as we descended the ramp onto  Ocean Parkway.

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Stride for stride along Ocean Parkway with Asku Mariachi (picture credit: Kari-Ann Wanat)

One by one we overtook runners as we hurtled along the parkway. And then got overtaken by two, one  of them Philip Falk of CPTC., around mile 8. Running the parkway is like running on a treadmill. It’s straight as a dye, apart from one kink, for 5 miles. You have 3 lanes to work with. And much of the roadway  is like a bowling green, unlike a typical New York roadway.

We passed 20K in 51:34 and 10 miles in 55:05, and Ben Leese and Brent Frissora in the process. These times were good enough to lead the UK and USA M50 rankings and suggested a 1:12:30 finish was on the cards. Fearful I was holding her back I encouraged Asku to start chasing those in front. She started to edge away. Desperate to see her all the way to the finish, I accelerated slightly. And then the hamstring came back to haunt me.

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In the space of a few hundred meters a rapidly tightening hamstring reduced me to a heavily labored running style. And then I just stepped off the roadway, gripping the hamstring in a vice like hold to relieve the pain. I tried twice to reignite but quickly came to the conclusion that running to the finish would be painful. slow and carry the risk of lasting damage.

I started a slow, ungainly 3-mile walk to the finish. Team mate Javier Rodriguez jogged up with a quizzical expression. As we walked I tried to make some sense of it all. This was only my 4th ever DNF and the first one due to injury. Reagan and Thatcher were in power when I last failed to finish – a 10,000m track race.

While part of me was bitterly disappointed, especially given I was clearly in great shape. But part of me was content. Content in having played some small part in helping Asku have a good race (read the NYRR race report here). That contented part of me grew as I saw and got to learn later of team mates that had, in difficult conditions, great races, including Jordan Wolff (2nd M40-44 and masters PR of 1:14:40), Flavio De Simone (2nd M45-49 and all time PR of 1:14:53), Fiona Bayly (1st W50 and top women’s AG in 1:22:19), Ramin Tabib (all time PR of 1:27:37), Bob Smullen (2nd best ever of 1:36:08), Jennifer Harvey (3rd W50 in 1:31:24) and Kathleen Kilbride (2nd W60 in 1:45:15). And then to learn that the M40 team got 2nd (Jordan, Flavio and Sebastien Baret, who hobbled home injured), W40 4th (Fiona, Jennifer Amato (1:30:19) and Jennifer Harvey). and W50 2nd (Fiona, Jennifer Harvey and Kathleen).

Flavio De Simone at the finish line

 

Jordan Wolff at the finish line

So what of the self refection. Well first it’s the realization, or confirmation of what I’ve known for a while, that I am a runner. It’s what I am and what I do. Second, running comes with a big family of like minded people. I ran with 26,000 of them on Saturday. In foul weather at the crack of dawn. Third, while my DNF was a disappointment it came with a silver lining. That I’d played some small part in helping other runners. And recognition of that is as priceless as the crown jewels. A team mate paid me the ultimate tribute, thanking me for helping him dramatically improve. This will help me get back on the saddle and back to the top of the M50 rankings on both sides of the Pond.

Flatbush Avenue

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Race Report: UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, New York, April 29

by Paul Thompson

After a month on the road – travelling for work in Europe – I stood on the start line with some trepidation. It was some 6 weeks since my last race, guiding Jason Dunkerley in the United Airlines New York City Half Marathon, and some 2 months since my season opener at the NYRR Washington Heights Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K. I was in no man’s land with little idea what to expect. I need not have worried.

With Sham away in Bangladesh – she flew out of T4 JFK on Thursday, three hours after I cleared immigration at T8, and we had 15 minutes together curbside at T4 – my usual prerace routine was also out of the window. Instead of driving in, parking at Marcus Garvey Park and then running to the race start as a warm-up, this time I caught the train in, stepped off at Harlem 125th Street Metro North and then ran to the start. I was also missing a photographer and an editor for this blog (hence few pictures and many typos).

Warming up I felt like I was over jet lag. There was a spring in my step. I’d also lost a few lbs while away, like I had in the build-up to the 2017 London Marathon. I ran and walked almost 5 miles as a warm-up, the last few miles with team mate Falvio De Simone who had recovered well from Boston and was in saerch of a PR. Shortly before the start fellow team mate Jordan Wolff appeared: I had a UA singlet to lend him.

The starting corral was packed. The invited elite runners included Laura Thweatt who is also coached by Lee Troop and who headlined at the NYRR Run Talk on Friday evening taht I attended. The local field was loaded. NYAC were out in force. I lined up amidst their posse.

My race plan was simple. I was keen to get close to my 32:44 of 2017, arguably my best race of 2017.  I would shoot for even splits, making allowances for the hills in the 1st, 3rd and 4th miles, (Download Course Map (PDF)) with the goal of running just under 33:00. That would demand 5:15s in the early miles before settling into low 5:20s.

And the gun was off. Barely 400m into the race I noticed just up ahead a phalanx of elite women with Laura leading the way. I figured I’d try to keep them in my sights as long as possible and, hopefully, run with my new team mate Askale Merachi. I clipped through the first mile, taking in Cat Hill, in 5:17 and caught Askale around the two mile mark with the clock reading 10:30. I hoped Askale would come with me but she was slowing, perhaps saving herself for an upcoming marathon. I was following the playbook.

The third mile proved, as expected, to be the toughest as it takes in the Northern Hills. On a counter / anti clockwise loop like this that means a 400m descent past the Harlem Meer, a 600m climb up to near the summit of the Great Hill, Central Park’s highest point, and ending with a 400m descent. I passed three miles in 16:05 and half way in 16:32, 3 seconds faster than I ran the Washington Heights 5K. I was shadowing Brent Frissora, someone I’d often traded strides with. Aside from Brent I spent most of the race isolated.

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Mid race (Photo credit: Jay-r Mojica)

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Mid race (Photo credit: Nigel Francis)

The fourth mile was no easier. Heading south down the West Side Drive it rolls with more climbing than descending. I covered the 4th mile on 5:27, reaching the four mile mark in 21:20. The fifth mile is possibly the fastest of the course as it descends for around 800m to Strawberry Fields. I passed Brent and then passed the 8K mark in 26:32 and 5 miles in 26:50. In 2017 I rocked the final mile chasing Natosha Rodgers. This time I simply clung on. Brent overtook me. I climbed up the final 200m incline as though it were the north face of the Eiger.

I crossed the finish line in 33:10, 26 seconds shy of 2017. I was 40th, 1st M50+ and 2nd M40+. My time was worth an age grade of 92.15%, the 5th highest of the day. It also tops the UK and, I think, US M50+ rankings for road 10K (USATF Masters 10K Championships were held on the same day). For now. My Garmin data is here.

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UA boasted a number of individual top 3 age group placers: Jordan Wolff, 2nd M40 in 34:50, a PR; Flavio De Simone, 2nd M45 in 34:57, a PR by 1:02; Fiona Bayly, 1st F50-54 in 37:42; Jennifer Amato, 3rd F45-49 in 41:07; and Kathleen Kilbride, 1st F60-64 in 47:59). UA also excelled team wise with 1st W50 (Fiona Bayly, Kathleen Kilbride and Kathleen Horton), 2nd M40+ (Jordan Wolff, Flavio De Simone and I), 2nd M50+ (Richard Temerian, Bob Smullen and I) and 3rd F40+ (Fiona Bayly, Jennifer Amato and Kathleen Kilbride).

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With team mates post race – from left Stefano Pia Agostinetti, Flavio De Simone, me, Jordan Wolff and Richard Temerian.

Over 7,400 runners finished according to NYRR’s race report. Rhonex Kipruto lowered the event record by 27 seconds, crossing the finish line in 27:08. That time is also the fastest road 10K ever run in the United States. That would make it arguably the best 10K road performance of all time. By an 18 year old. The women’s race provided another exciting finish, as 2018 United Airlines NYC Half champion Buze Diriba of Ethiopia once again used her fast finishing kick to win, this time in 32:04, passing compatriot Aselefech Mergia in the final 200 meters. Laura Thweatt came 4th in 32:22, a 10K road PR. New UA team mate Askale came 6th in 33:59.

So all’s well that ends well. My month on the road ended well. My running routine had gone out of the window. I ran at different times, in different places, at different paces and mainly alone. But I had the constant support and guidance of Troopy.

I was not short of variety of weather and places to run. The weather ranged from wet and 40s F to sunny and high 70s F. I ran through villages near my home town with brother Stephen, in London’s Hyde and St James’s Park with friend Mo’ath Alkhawldeh (I watched him run the London Marathon a few days later), in the grounds of Schloß Schönbrunn in Vienna, in Richmond Park in London, and in the Bois de le Cambre, Parc de Bruxelles and the Sonian Forest in Brussels. Most of the time I felt like I was going through the motions. But during last Wednesday’s early morning 13 miler, where I got lost and scrambled to get back to the office in time for a meeting, I ran some 5 miles at close to 6:00 mpm pace. This was the acid test. I was ready to rock.

Race Report: 2018 NYRR Washington Heights Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K, New York, March 4, 2018

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

The week leading into this race left me in a no man’s land of what to expect from this race, my traditional season opener. I’d run 16:35 in 2017 during my build-up for the London Marathon. What landed me in no man’s land was last weekend’s antics. It also  placed at risk my running with Jason Dunkerley at the upcoming New York City Half.

On Saturday evening I’d participated in my first indoor meet, at the Armory in the north west tip of Manhattan, in which I ran 5 x 200m as part of a 10 person 10K age-graded relay (I didn’t drop the baton as the results show). The following morning I ran 20 miles in the rain with team mate Flavio de Simone. Actually it was 19.83 thanks to Flavio working in metric and having us do 32K: I call this the “Italian Job”. On Monday, it left me with sore hamstrings that gradually recovered through the week. In most walks of life as we age we get wiser. This does not hold true with running.

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On the start line, after a 4 mile warm-up through Harlem from Marcus Garvey to the Armory, I was reasonably sure the hamstrings were set to race. Standing in the starting corral things took a turn for the worse. The elite runners bearing AA bib numbers were shepherded to the start line and told they would start ahead of the rest of us. The A runners , including my clubmates and I, started to roar in disapproval and a popular mass protest was on the cards. The AA runners took off and 40 or so seconds later, a random gap, we were off in hot pursuit.

The “AA” runners storming ahead: Brendan Martin leading

The opening half mile or so steadily climbs. I was fired up and was near the front of the pack. But as the crest of the first hill (see course map) approached I started to rapidly tire. To make matters worse the cold wind, not as bitter as in 2017 when wind chill was -15C but stronger and a headwind on the outward journey of this out and back course.

Over the next half mile or so, passing the mile mark at the summit of the course (in around 5:35 according to my Garmin: I ignored the clocks at the mile markers as they were only showing times for the AA runners) some 20 runners, including masters Guillermo Pineda Morales aka Memo (WSX), Peter Brady (CPTC), and team mates Javier Rodriguez and Matt Chaston, swept past. I was preparing mentally for one to forget.

Fortunately as we rounded the Cloisters, the half way point, I began to rally. We were now running with the elite women who’d also started 40 seconds or so ahead of us. I don’t mind confessing I enjoyed running with these top lassies. They rock. I rarely have the honor: in most races I’m a typically ahead of them from the gun.

The race takes a 400m loop around the Cloisters and then heads back up a 600m incline to the two mile point. This is arguably the toughest part of the course as it takes you back to the summit of the course. My Garmin showed I ran the second mile in 5:23. I edged past Peter as we entered the closing mile leaving me with just two masters runners, Mengistu Tabor Nebsi in 15:52 (WSX) and Memo in 16:15, ahead of me.

One might be orgiven for thinking that was plain sailing from here. The closing mile has one 200m incline but otherwise it descends the whole way. And we had a wind behind. But if you take your eye off the ball and the foot off the throttle droves of runners come past. So I stayed focused and kept charging. Just ass we crested the final hill and with 800m of steady descent left I passed team mate Harriott Kelly. I gasped that she was getting away from her rival for first place.

Harriott about to hit the tape as leading lady

After a 5:15 third mile, in a straight that feels like it’ll end in Battery Park, I crossed the finish line in 44th place, good for 3rd M40+ and 1st M50, in 16:35. This was one second better than in 2017 and gave me top age grade of 90.36%. Peter followed a few seconds later (in 16:38) and Harriott, first lady, soon after (in 17:23). I was first UA runner though this had more to do with the weakness of our open team and Javier’s poor health than my performance. It was enough to place me top of the UK 5K M50 rankings – for now.

Finish in sight

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800 metres to go with Harriott Kelly and Peter Brady (picture credit: Nigel Francis)

UA’s boasted a truckload of individual top 3 age group placers (not surprising given how we dominated the masters Oscars at the 2018 NYRR Club Night). They were as follows: Saudy Tejada, 3rd F35-39 in 19:32; Javier, 3rd M40 in 16:57; Flavio de Simone, 3rd M45 in a big PR of 17:08; Ellen Basille, 1st F45 in 18:52; Jennifer Amato, 2nd F45 in 20:35; Matt Chaston, 2nd M50 in 16:41; Fiona Bayly, 1st F50 in 19:16; and Dominique Saint-Louis, 2nd F50 in 20:07. UA placed 5th and 7th in the women and mens open teams respectively. But best of all we got 1st F40, F50 and M50 teams and 2nd M40 team.

Fiona Bayly

Flavio de Simone

Washington Heights 5K is affectionately known in local running lore as Coogan’s after the famous bar that plays host to the post race revelry. The bar recently came close to closure. It’s won a stay of execution. If it closed a part of New York would die with it. The race will live on regardless. It’s like no other. The field is deep, the course is hilly, the weather typically cold and windy, and the neighborhood quintessential New York.

More than 5,000 runners completed the course. NYRR’s full story is here. First to cross the finish line for the men was Brendan Martin (NYAC) who finished in 14:50. I reflected on the race and noticed how such is its intensity I rarely have time to take in any of the neighborhood and local historical sites. One day Sham and I will walk around it to before it gentrifies. Before then I will run through New York with Jason.

Race Report: NYRR Ted Corbitt 15K, New York, December 9, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures Shamala Thompson, John Le Tran and Ramin Tabib)

I kicked off the week running in mid 50s F temperatures and bright sunshine on trails in Marin County with fellow Brit and former New York resident Antony Scott. I ended it, and maybe my racing season, duking it out with Urban Athletics team mates in low 30s F with snow flurries in Central Park. No guesses which was the more enjoyable. But the more rewarding was certainly the race which is held in honor of the father of US ultra running.

I’d not raced since the New Balance Bronx 10 Miler. That day I’d complained it was too hot. Since then I’d been on the road, flying around Europe and to the West Coast for work. I enjoy the travel. But it wreaks havoc with my running routine and dents confidence in my sense of  race preparedness. Landing in unfamiliar places with no running pals leaves me searching for green spaces on GoogleMaps and popular segments and heat maps on Strava. While traveling much time gets invested in figuring the when and where. The outcome can be less than ideal, like a park in the dark in Bucharest, other times near perfect, like the lake mid-day in Geneva or the sunrise over the Golden Gate Bridge.

So here I was lining up for a 15K race. The route was the 4 mile loop, cutting across the 72nd and 102nd Street Transverses, followed by a 5 mile loop taking in the park’s  southern end (and avoiding the northern hills). I last ran this race in 2015 when I ran 50:25. Today I figured, with freezing temperatures and snow flurries, that I’d be happy with 51 and change. Urban Athletics M50 team had a lot to play for. Going into this my maths (math) had us finishing the season level with CPTC in the NYRR Club Standings if we won Ted  Corbitt. Our Women and Men’s Masters teams had already  accumulated enough points to win  their respective categories and a number of UA runners were in line for award nominations in 2018. So we had to be on our A game. Fortunately we had newly minted 50 year old Matt Chaston join Adam Kuklinski, Jonathan Schindel and I.

Matt (blue hat) and me in the starting corral

Soon after the gun went I settled in mid-pack with around 30 runners ahead of me. I quickly realized that the leaders had gone out hard, chasing, as it turns out, the event and course record winner.  I found myself running with team mates Javier Rodriguez and Jason Lakritz. Jason, who could have challenged for 50 flat, was essentially ‘on duty’ pacing us. I attacked the  opening miles, heading south down the east side, much to Javier’s angst. I was looking for 51 minutes so needed to run sub 5:30 miles. The first three miles per Garmin and Strava data were 5:28, 5:17 and 5:33.  5K  followed in just under 17:00. Up ahead there were 4 groups, the first dominated by West Side, the second and third by NYAC and then a duo from CPTC and DWTC.

 

Lead group includes fellow Brit Matt Gillespie (Henwood  Hounds)

 

Jason, Javier and I chase 4th group

We passed mile 4 in 21:34 and crossed the finish line, signalling a lap of 5 miles left to run. At this point I started to started to lose contact with Jason and Javier. I told them not to wait for me. In case that’s what they were thinking. As they edged away and we started tackling the rolling hills down the east side I started to feel the fatigue my body usually saves for the closing miles. I was now isolated. And stayed that way for the next few miles. I covered the 5th mile in 5:30, passing 5 miles in 27:04. On the long descent after the reservoir I rallied with a 5:23 6th mile and passed 10K in a little over 33:30. I had stopped losing ground to my team mates. They were just 30 metres ahead.

On the south end of the park, in the 7th mile, I started to close the gap on Javier and Jason. As I was ‘creeping up’ on my team mates, my cover was blown by former Warren Street team-mate Jim Stemm. He bellowed my name prompting Javier to glance back to see me coming. As we passed mile 7 in around 38:00, after a 5:30 mile, I regained  contact and suggested we work together to the finish. Javier was somewhat reluctant to accept the offer. He was suffering with a side stitch. For the next mile, which took in Cat Hill, we eased off slightly to  help him kick it into touch. Mile 8, 5:42, proved to be the slowest of the race.

Jason and I in the closing mile

One of the highlights of the race was passing Engineer’s Gate. UA cheerleaders led by Ellen Basile, Herbie Medina and Ramin Tabib, roared us on. It was a timely reminder coffee, ice cold beer (!) and bagels, with lots of bonhomie, would be waiting for us at the store soon after the finish. The snow started to fall faster. Realizing Jason was ‘waiting’ for us I decided to throw the hammer down. We gapped Javier. He was almost home but would his stitch was proving stubborn. I navigated my way across the line of lapped runners to the inside, turned the final left hander into the finish and crossed the line in 51:23, just behind  Jason. I was happy, relieved and cold.

Jason starts to sprint for home

I was 24th, 2nd masters and 1st M50. Javier came over the line in 51:32, a PR (Bob Smullen got one too). I recorded 2nd AG, just shy of 90%. Incredibly I was only 4th Brit! The best part of this race, like many  others, was hanging out in the finishing area as team mates and rivals crossed the line. We man hugged, fist bumped and congratulated each other on completing a long hard season: Peter Brady (1st M45-49 in 53:29), Brad Kelley (2nd M50 in 54:57), teammates Matt Chaston (3rd M50 in 55:17), Adam Kuklinski (6th M50 in 58:27) and Jonathan Schindel (9th M50 in 59:58), and DWTC’s Jonathan Kline (1st M55-59 in 56:42) and many more.

Matt and me in finishing funnel

Matt (right), Jonathan Kline (middle) and me putting on a brave face

Adam, Matt and I won the M50 for UA. Javier, Matt and I the same for the masters overall. The UA men’s open team were 5th.  Many of our women had spectated: our women masters had effectively won the season long championships in the Bronx.

The overall winners were Teshome Mekonen in 44:43 (event and course record) and Belaynesh Fikadu in 54:36. The NYRR race report is here. It was 2017’s final club points race of the year. The running community will celebrate the top runners and teams of 2017 at NYRR Club Night on February 1. Then we will discover if UA win the M50 award.

Women’s winner

Sham was there with warm clothes and warm heart, but not so warm body. After a short warm-down with team mate Alex Lorton the team retired to the store. There we got to meet Gary Corbitt, Ted’s son. As we mingled I realized, as team mate Paul Sorace said, that this was my family. My running family.  Some are closer, geographically, than others. I have running family members in Boulder, San Francisco, Kettering,  London, Huddersfield, Singapore, KL and elsewhere. Band of runners, brothers and sisters. As I close in on 52 I just happen to be one of the older brothers.

Ramin Tabib and me (top); Gary Corbitt and me (middle); and UA runners Stefao, Kieran and I on sale! (bottom)

Race Report: New Balance Bronx 10, New York, September 24, 2017

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)

The past few years, 2015 and 2016, I’ve run this race the weather conditions were perfect. This year they weren’t. Far from it. This came off the back of another work trip to Europe, ending with a flight arrving late Thursday night at JFK from London Heathrow. I’d had an easy few days so felt rested and the body clock, on Europe time 5 hours ahead, meant I was wide awake, if not raring to go, at 5am.

But I went into this race with confidence riding low. I’d been well beaten in the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile, was carying a low level calf strain that had caused me to cut short a Mona Fartlek session on Tuesday, and considerable work travel that had gotten in the way of my usual run routine.

The last 8 days I’d been on a whistle stop Europe tour taking in London (twice), Munich (for Oktoberfest at this great joint), Brussels and Frankfurt. I got in some great runs including two from a Munich Airport hotel, this one where a flat iPhone battery caused me to run 5 miles overdistance. In just over 24 hours I drank 2 litres of beer, ate half a duck and ran 26 miles. I’m strangely proud of that ‘achievement’. That 26 miles got me to 70 miles for the week, the weekly target that’s eluded me for much of the past 4 months.

Right, back to the race. Sham and I picked up team mate Javier Rodriguez from Dobbs Ferry as we drove to the race from Peekskill.  Javier and I jumped out of the car at the junction of the Madison Avenue Bridge and I87 and ran the mile or so north up the Grand Concourse. We ran the first and last mile of the course, did a few strides, met up with Urban Athletics (UA) team mates and got into the starting corral. Then we were off. Along with 15,000 others.

I quickly settled into a group including Bobby Asher (VCTC) and Brian Leese (NBR). We passed the first mile in 5:15. My target was sub-55 minutes. That would demand an average pace of 5:30. But I’d not fully factored in the weather. It was in the high 70sF (25C), bathed in bright unforgiving sunshine on an exposed course.

I traded places with the group but some got away. By mile 3 I had settled into 5:25-5:30 pace. My group kept changing composition. Brent Frissora (NYAC), who I’d narrowly beaten when running 53:36 in 2015, cruised past. I tried to join his train. I did for all of a mile. I passed mile 3 in 16:20 and 5K in 16:55. At this point of the race I thought I might not be able to finish. I’d maybe gone out too hard.  A big group was chasing me. And the short climb out of the underpass around mile 3 felt like a mountain.

The end of the Grand Concourse came into view. I was now stranded and would be until I got back onto the Grand Concourse just shy of mile 6. I passed half way in 27:35. The long steady incline up the Mosholu Parkway from the Bronx Botanical Gardens to the Grand Concourse slowed me to a 5:47 6th mile. But any thought of stopping I’d flushed from my mind. Everyone was hurting. And I was needed for the team – open, masters and M50+. As team mate Paul Wong, a fellow Brit, had said the M50+ NYRR 2017 Club Standings were “as tight as an Arsenal shirt”: UA and CPTC were neck ‘n’ neck on 108 points, 84 less the worst two races.

Onto the Grand Concourse I was joined by a group of 5 including team mate Javier and top M40 contenders Guillermo Pineda Morales (Memo) and Klaus Kuorikoski (a new comer to the NYRR racing scene from Finland and racing for Henwood’s Hounds). I passed 10K in around 34:15.  A few of the group, including Memo and Klaus, opened a gap on me. I was now in damage limitation mode, just like in the closing miles of a marathon. Javi dropped off the back. I now had my sights on Klaus, who Memo had gapped, and Brent who was slowing down after opening a big gap on me mid-race. I knew that I was home and dry at around 8.5 miles as I passed Brent. From there it’s an ever increasingly steep descent to the finish line outside Yankee Stadium.

Finishing straight comes into view

I got into my stride in those final few miles. I was now catching the runners in front. I overtook Klaus but on official timing (cip to chip) we were level on 55:24. Good for 24th overall, 1st M50+ and 2nd M40+ (after Memo on 55:06). I topped the age grading with 89.65%. Sebastien was next UA man home, running 56:14 for 3rd M40-44, followed by Javier on 56.43 for 4th M40-44. That nailed the M40+ team for UA by over 9 minutes.

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Sebastien

Javier with Jamie Brisbois in hot pursuit

It was a good day for the Team UA. The W40+ (Fiona Bayly (1st W40+ in 61:46), Ellen Basille (2nd W45-49 in 65:40) and Cathrine Wolden (4th W45-49 in 66:49) won by almost 15 minutes, nearly 5 minutes for each of the three scorers. That leaves the M40+ and W40+ teams with almost unassailable leads in the NYRR 2017 Club Standings. The M50+ team (Adam Kuklinski (7th M50-54 in 63:38), Paul Wong (20th M50-54 in 68:25) and me) also placed first, and now have a narrow gap over CPTC in the 2017 club standings. Things were less rosy for the UA open teams (6th men and 8th women), depleted by injury athletes and those focused on a fall marathon.

The NYRR race report is here. Harbert Okuti of the Westchester Track Club broke the finish tape in 49:32, while Roberta Groner of the NYAC won the women’s race in 56:50.

Teammates

So it played out better than hoped. I had self doubts during the race. But those doubts were overcome by the need to do my best for the team. And I came away top of the UK M50 rankings for 10 miles.

Race Report: New Balance 5th Avenue Mile, New York, September 10, 2017

By Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)

While I like to think I’m better than a ‘one trick pony‘, today I was rudely reminded that it’s a case of  ‘horses for courses‘ and the mile is not my course. I simply got soundly beaten,  by several lengths, by a mile specialist. In fact by the time we reached two furlongs to go, the final quarter, it was all over bar the heavy breathing. Right less of the horse racing analogy, more of my day out at the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile races.

 

Going into this one the writing was on the wall. It’s just that I failed to read it. Since March I’ve been having various issues with my right leg. In 2017 it seems I’ve had just about everything – ITB, then hamstring / glute and most recently shin splints – and yet for the big occasions I’ve been injury free, though sometimes underprepared. Recently my problems have ebbed away but my race sharpness has been eroded through lack of high intensity training and long runs. And so it all came to roost today.

When I first ‘settled’ in  New York and ran for Warren Street I used to avoid the 5th Avenue Mile. The distance did not appeal and I was not training for it, preferring instead to focus on preparing and racing 10Ks and half marathons. Then it became a club points race and ever since I’ve tried to compete whenever I can. But I’ve not adjusted my training. I last ran it in 2015. I clocked 4:45. I was hopeful of something similar.

After warming up with team mate Ramin Tabib I lined up with fellow male and female runners 50-59. There was some 500 of us. There was great camaraderie. Many if not most of us were sharing injury stories. It comes with the age. And trepidation about running our slowest ever mile. After all we ain’t getting any younger. And I got acquainted with some new competitors, not least Gerald O’hara who was edged into 2nd in 2016.  Gerry had a 4:41 indoor time to his name earlier in ’16. He was  the man to beat.

My goal was 4:50 but, more importantly, to compete. Being on the front row I got a clean start. 5th Avenue is a fast road mile –  dead straight, wide roadway, good road surface and gently undulating with a slight descent in the first quarter, slight incline in the second, and again slight descent for the second half. I ran alongside Gerry through halfway passing the first quarter mark in around 1:10 and the second in around 2:25.

I felt pretty good at this point. But then Gerry found an extra gear and went away. And kept pulling away. And all I could do was spectate. His lead had extended to some 30 metres by the three  quarter mark which I reached in around 3:40. I was now hanging on for second but the shouts for “Brad” were getting closer and louder. And so it was no surprise he tore past with a furlong to go. I sensed others were chasing me down but fortunately the finish line came soon enough.

 

I breasted the line in 3rd place in 4:53 (AG of 87.59%, the lowest of 2017), 9 seconds shy of Gerry and 3 behind Brad. Gerry was an emphatic winner. One year I have to train specifically for this and see what I can do. The time was good enough to top the UK M50 rankings but is way off what the top Americans  are running. In addition to Gerry, Todd Straka, USATF 2017 M50 mile champion who’d made the trip from Boulder, ran 4:29 in the open race.

I reflected that while running a half marathon I’m in some sort of zone, a comfort zone of sorts, for much of the race. Only in the closing miles do I start to grind. But in the mile I spend none of the time in that zone. I’m grafting from the gun.

The team excelled. Urban Athletics won the M40+ (Javier Rodriguez (3rd M40 in 4:29), Matt Chaston (2nd M45 in 4:33) and Stefano Piana-Agostinetti (4th M45 in 4:40)) W40+ (Fiona Bayly (1st W50 in 5:17), Jennifer Harvey (1st W45 in 5:22) and Cathrine Wolden (2nd W45 in 5:23) and W50+ (with two newly minted W50s Fiona and Dominique Saint-Louis (3rd W50 in 5:25) joining Ivy Bell (2nd W60 in 6:39)). In both open races UA finished 6th. In the overall, year to date club standings, UA lie first in M40+ and W40+   and equal first with CPTC for M50+ while in 4th and 5th respectively for open men and women.

Our M50 team (Jonathan Schindel (5th in 4:55), Paul Wong (14th in 5:09) and I) came second to a CPTC team led home by Gerry and Brad. UA’s W40+ were the standouts, winning comfortably. Again. And the W50+ most improved. Some UA runners logged impressive PRs including Ramin Tabib, Bob Smullen, Ivy Bell, Dominique Saint-Louis and Elizabeth Dellamora.

 

The many races making up the 2017 New Balance 5th Avenue Mile featured more than 7,500 runners, the largest field in the event’s 37-year history. The race’s professional athletes provided historic performances to match, with Jenny Simpson making it her sixth win and Nick Willis his fourth.

Now the mile is not my cup of tea. But the 5th Avenue Mile is. The venue is breathtaking: when else can you run 20 blocks down the middle of 5th Avenue ending at The Plaza? The occasion is spectacular: elite runners from around the world, the television cameras, runners of  all ages. But most importantly the New York City running community is in the limelight. And today some, like Mark Williams and Reno Stirrat, went from being virtual friends on Facebook to the real thing! So much better.

Race Report: NYRR Queens 10K, June 17, 2017

by Paul Thompson (photographer Shamala was off duty)

I went into this event with trepidation – about whether I could get there and once there whether I could race well. Getting there proved easy as my best laid plans came to fruition. Getting a good confidence boosting race under my belt proved a tougher nut to crack. The silver lining lay in the way the race motivated me to ramp up my game leading into the half marathon at the European Masters Athletics Championships in Denmark.

In recent weeks I’d been travelling extensively throughout Europe for work. My employer is a tiny Brussels’ based association. No Brexit for me. I typically spend 2-3 weeks a time, 5-6 times a year, based in the UK with friends and family and sandwich together meetings and events to maximize the bang for the buck. This time, as my running log shows, for some 14 days I was working and running in Brussels, Vienna, London (ironically in Wimbledon running around the Common), Kettering, Warsaw and finally Berlin.

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Running in Richmond Park, London

Try as I might to maintain my running routine – including a 11 miles along the river in Vienna at 10 pm soon after touch down – eventually long runs and workouts gave way to steady runs and then no runs for two days in Berlin. For good measure I brought a cold back with me along with dirty laundry. The one positive was that Russ Stram seems to have sorted my hamstring tendinitis.

Getting to the race start line was always going to pose a challenge. I’d decided to use public transit. I boarded the train at Peekskill at 5:10 am, arriving at Harlem 125th Street at 6:10 am where I met Urban Athletics (UA) team mate Ramin Tabib. We boarded the M60 SBS to La Guardia, getting off at the furthest most stop at Terminal D. At this point Ramin had a rather skeptical but my iPhone helped us navigate the two miles – a useful warm-up – to the venue.

At the venue it was as if the entire NYRR running community, with all its clobber and paid parking of $25 to boot, had been accidentally teleported into Queens. Many Manhattan residents (sorry folks but I couldn’t resist this) seemed to be lost overboard, some 6 miles from the familiarity of Central Park. Queens is typically viewed from the ‘safety’ of their taxi or Uber en route to LGA or JFK.

At the venue – the 900 acre Flushing Meadows Corona Park – I seemed to have gained new found notoriety thanks to Will Sanchez. Will, a real connoisseur of the New York running scene, had invited me on his show ‘Gotta Run with Will’. The show was cut in early April just ahead of my running the London Marathon and went on general release in mid-May. I usually cringe at videos of my talking on camera but Will did a great job of making me look quite interesting. The phone hasn’t started ringing yet from Hollywood. I’m all set to guest star in a real life drama ‘Escape from Queens’.

Back to the race. My target was to run even 5:20 pace which would give me around 33 minutes. The course was about as flat as they come but included a number of sharp turns. The temperature was a perfect high 60s but the humidity was tropical. The first mile proved tricky to navigate as it was narrow and winding. I settled into a large pack which included team mates Jason Lakritz, Javier Rodriguez, Jamie Brisbois, Sebastien Baret (first race as M40+) and Aaron Mendelsohn. We had many for company including top masters John Henwood and Memo Morales Peres who I’d duked it with in Brooklyn.

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Promising start with John Henwood (left) and Bobby Asher (right) (Photo credit: Sam LaFata)

I did my fair share of the pacing. We navigated past the bunch of elite women who’d started out fast. The group was so large and tightly packed we kept clipping elbows and feet but fortunately no one tripped. We passed the mile mark in 5:20, some 20 seconds off the lead group. Midway through the second mile the roadway was water logged and left us all covered in muddy spray. We passed the two mile mark in 10:40. The group was working together, as though there were an unspoken truce.

In the third mile Jason threw the hammer down and the truce was over. The group went from close knit bunch to a long thin line, me nearer the back of the line. Sebastien and John had dropped away. Javier and Memo were up ahead, leaving me 3rd masters. I quickly came to realize this was going to be a hard day at the office, one for the team. I passed mile three in 16:10 and the half way in 16:41, 20 seconds slower than my last 10K.

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Losing contact with the group (Photo credit: Sam LaFata)

In the latter half I concentrated out damage limitation – time and place. I figured I could just about hold this pace and clock around 33:15. As we headed out to Citi Field (the last time I ran here in the NY Mets Run to Home Plate 5K in 2005 – won by John Henwood – it was Shea Stadium and Citi were a profitable bank) past the National Tennis Center the road was flat, fast and largely straight. Pity my legs and lungs failed to capitalize. I got to four miles in 21:30, the fourth mile of 5:25 being my slowest so far. But not the slowest. I held my pace for the fifth mile, passing five miles in around 27:00, and then started to unravel as I circled the Unisphere in the final mile. I covered the sixth mile in 5:30. Rarely do I close out a race with my slowest mile, except the marathon.

My 33:36 finish time was good for 1st M50, 3rd masters (after Memo in 33:12 and Javier in 33:21) and 24th overall. My age grade was 90.2%, 2% lower than my average for 2017 races, and second overall. I forgot to stop my Garmin. Some day I’ll remember. The heart rate readings were way off, likely due to my wrist band not being tight enough.

I milled around the finish funnel talking to rivals and team mates. Many of UA team had run slow times. We scratched around for an excuse and unanimously decided on the humidity. But then Ellen Basile breezed up to announce she’d smashed her 10K PR by over a minute. We were all very happy for Ellen but sad our excuse had been trashed.

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Discussing best excuse for a bum race

As NYRR reported this year’s race had more than 10,800 finishers, the most ever. Ayele Megersa Feisa of the West Side Runners broke the finish tape in 30:25 in a close finish over teammate Mengistu Tabor Nebsi. Belaynesh Fikadu, also of WSX, was the winner on the women’s side in 34:13, six seconds ahead of Roberta Groner of the New York Athletic Club.

UA turned in stella team performance. The men were 2nd in the open division (at the time of writing they were showing 4th since the NYRR results service was only scoring 3 runners rather than the 5 of Jason, Javier, me, Sebastien and Jamie), the women 4th (Harriott Kelly, Fiona Bayly and Ellen). Our W40+ team knocked the competition out of Citi Field: Fiona, Ellen and Cathrine Wolden won with over 16 minutes to spare. Javier, me and Sebastien won the M40+, albeit in less emphatic style. To complete the set (!) UA (me, Jonathan Schindel and Adam Kuklinski) won the M50+.

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Ellen shows up to blow away our excuses

43 UA runners towed the line, a large proportion of the total active membership. Many placed in the top 10 for their age group and there was some great packing: Jason (16th overall and 7th M25-29 in 33:07); Javier (21st overall and 2nd M40-44 in 33:21); me (24th overall, 3rd M40+ and 1st M50-54 in 33:36); Sebastien (27th overall and 3rd M40-44 in 33:57); James (32nd overall in 34:02); Aaron (6th M40-44 in 35:10); Harriott Kelly (7th overall and 2nd W25-29 in 36:23); Stefano Piana-Agostinetti (7th M45-49 in 37:30); Adam (4th M50-54 in 37:47); Jonathan (5th M50-54 in 37:53); Peter Heimgartner (10th M45-49 in 38:07); Fiona (1st W40+ and 1st W45-49 in 38:18); Ellen (2nd W40+ and 2nd 245-49 in 38:52); Stephane Bois (8th M50-54 in 39:23); Paul Wong (9th M50-54 in 39:45); Cathrine (5th W45-49 in 41:23); Jennifer Harvey (6th W45-49 in 41:37); and Jennifer Amato (5th W40-44 in 42:42).

So it was game, set and match to UA. Ramin was a wee bit disappointed, running oustide 42 minutes. As we left the venue to retrace our steps back to Manhattan via the M60 SBS most Manhattan runners were seen ‘legging it’ for the 7 train to whisk them back to their island. I’m sure they’ll look more fondly out the car window when stuck in traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway on their next ride to JFK. That’s it for Manhattan bashing. For now.

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Ramin and me waiting for the M60 SBS back to Manhattan